Social media has given street art fame and recognition that is unprecedented. Artists create their works – murals or graffiti or pasteups – to convey a personal or political message to a broad public, or simply as pure self-expression. But when social media influencers discover and publicize those works, it often is the influencers, rather than the creators, who profit. By associating themselves with street art, influencers and other third-party players build not only their fame and cachet, but also their bank accounts.

Street art and social media have transformed blank walls into cottage industries. In the process, street art has become a promotional tool – one that can be exploited by various players with differing interests. Social media influencers may photograph themselves in front of the art, gaining followers and building their brand; businesses nearby benefit from increased foot traffic as tourists seek out the art; and in cities where films and commercials are shot, location scouts may consider using street art as a backdrop. All of this typically takes place without authorization from the artist, and without compensating the artist.

Street art differs from traditional art in several ways. Most notably, street artists don’t own the walls they use as canvases; in many places, street art may even be illegal. Indeed, the general public may believe that street art – graffiti, or a mural on an abandoned building, or a stencil on a sidewalk – is in the public domain, and that it may be freely used and reproduced without the artist’s permission.

But is that the case? Is street art less entitled to copyright protection than is traditional art? 

Read more here and find out.